What is marriage?
The Roman Catholic Church understands marriage to be a permanent and exclusive partnership of a man and woman for their whole lives for the good of both spouses and for the procreation and education of children.Although not every marriage is a sacrament, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, non-believer, (including Justice of the Peace ceremonies), are presumed to be valid marriages. The good of all concerned (spouses, children, in-laws, society, the Church as a whole, etc.) demands this presumption.For those who have been validly baptized, a valid marriage is at the same time the Sacrament of Matrimony.The Church believes that every valid, sacramental marriage that has been consummated is permanent and cannot be dissolved. This is divine law, the understanding of the Gospels and of the epistles of Paul, and is supported by the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.
Types of Cases
Marriage enjoys the favor of the law. This means that every valid or sacramental marriage is presumed to be a life-long, unbreakable covenant in the eyes of God and the Church. However, in some cases this presumption can be overturned by a tribunal’s examination of evidence and witness testimony.
For the Petitioner and Respondent, the honest examination of the breakdown in the marriage can also be a source of healing and reconciliation. The Church’s answer to the parties’ question of whether the marriage was a valid covenant before the Lord, can be a source of forgiveness and peace.
An annulment is an official judgment on the part of the Church that (1) there was an impediment that prohibited a valid marriage, or (2) a defect of the consent of one or both parties rendered the marriage consent invalid.
Defective consent involves the intentions and capacities of each of the parties to a marriage at the time of the exchange of vows. A bride or groom who had defective consent on the day of the marriage ceremony would not have possessed the minimum level of abilities or intentions for a sacramental union.
A Church declaration of nullity has absolutely no civil effects whatsoever.
The requirements to begin a formal case process include:
- A general application (libellus) (This must include valid addresses for both of the ex-spouses.)
- A written narrative by the petitioner (the party who initiates the case)
- Willing and knowledgeable witnesses
- Certified Marriage and Divorce Decrees
- Updated baptismal records of Catholics
The parish priest or a member of the Tribunal can assist you with these forms.
It is important to note that NO plans for a new marriage can be made until and unless the process is completed.
Formal cases can take from 12-18 months to complete.
Processus Brevior (Briefer Process Before the Bishop)
In 2015, Pope Francis introduced some changes to canonical law regarding some cases before the Tribunal. One such change was the intoduction of a new process, "Processus Brevior" or as we call it, a Briefer Process Before the Bishop.
Two essential requirements must be met before a case can be admitted to this process before the bishop:
1. Both parties must agree, in writing, to the possible use of this process, and
2. the Judicial Vicar must consider that the nullity of the marriage in question is clearly manifest.
It must be made clear to the parties, from the beginning, that there is no guarantee of an affirmative decision, and that merely submitting a case for this process does not guarantee that the case will not be turned over to the Ordinary (Formal) process.
The requirements to begin a Processus Brevior case include:
1. A completed application (libellus) and narrative of the petitioner
2. Written commitment by both ex-spouses to the use of this process
3. An explanation of the types of proofs (witness and expert information) that could be readily available
4. A certified marriage and divorce decree for the marriage in question
5. Updated baptismal records of any Catholic party (petitioner and/or respondent)
The parish priest or the Tribunal staff can assist you with these forms.
If this process can be used, a case can be tried with about two months.
Again, NO PLANS for a future marriage should be made until a formal decision has been granted in the affirmative.
Lack or Defect of Form--Documentary Case
The Church requires that a Catholic party must be married:
- before a duly-authorized priest or deacon
- in the presence of two witnesses.
This is called the canonical form of a marriage. Without those two requirements being met, a "Lack of Form" case could be introduced.
If a Catholic is married before a justice of the peace, a civil judge, or a minister of another Christian church, then the marriage is not considered valid in the eyes of the Church. This is called a lack of form. The bishop can grant a dispensation from the requirement of canonical form, but it must be done before the wedding.
It can also be the case that the Catholic priest/deacon did not have delegation (permission) to witness the wedding. (One example: The bride has an uncle from another state who is a priest. The Uncle comes in to witness the marriage in our diocese, but does not get permission first from the Diocesan Bishop or from the bride's parish priest. Without that permission, the marriage is not valid in the eyes of the Church.) This type of situation would be considered a "Defect of Form."
The requirements to begin a Lack/Defect of Form case process include:
- A general application (libellus)
- Two witnesses
- Certified Marriage and Divorce Decrees
- Updated baptismal records of the Catholic parties
Your parish priest or members of the Tribunal can help you with the forms.
This type of case generally takes a month or less to complete.
Other Types of Cases
There are several other types of marriage cases which can come before the Tribunal.
Other types of cases can include:
1. Prior Bond (Ligamen): A case in which one of the parties was not free to marry due to a previous marriage that had not been taken care of by a canonical procedure. Example: Bob, a Catholic, and Susan, non-Catholic are civilly married. Susan was previously married to John, non-Catholic. Though Susan and John were civilly divorced, she was not "canonically free" to marry Bob in a Catholic ceremony. The impediment of the prior bond of Susan and John must be addressed before Susan and Bob can be married in the Catholic Church.
2. Favor of the Faith: These are cases in which a previous marriage is dissolved (not annulled) in favor of the faith of a Catholic party. These cases are presented to either the Diocesan Bishop or to the Roman Tribunal, and the case revolves around non-baptism of one or both parties in a marriage. You might hear Favor of the Faith cases referred to as Pauline or Petrine Privilege cases.
3. Ratum et Non-Consummatum: Simply stated, a case in which a wedding was celebrated but was never physically and naturally consummated. These cases are reserved to the Pope.
The very best thing one can do to discover how the Tribunal might assist you in discovering what type of marriage situation you have is to visit with your parish priest or with one of the trained members of the Tribunal Staff.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is remarriage in the Catholic Church allowed?
Yes, in general, remarriage can take place in the Catholic Church.
However, unless a previous a marriage has been through a Tribunal process, a remarriage cannot take place. The only exception to this rule is if a spouse in a previous marriage has died. Upon death, the widow/widower would be free to marry.
When a decree of nullity is granted and there are no restrictions attached to it, the usual procedure of preparations for marriage in the Roman Catholic Church may be started with one's local priest.
No plans for future marriage can be made until the completion of a Tribunal process.
If marriage plans have been made, consider postponing them until the annulment process is complete. No priest will perform a wedding until the annulment is 'in hand.'
The Tribunal cannot be responsible for arbitrary promises or guarantees made by any priest, religious or lay person(s).
Are there any civil effects to a Church decree of nullity?
There are no civil effects to a Church decree of nullity in the United States. A declaration of nullity in no way affects the legitimacy of children, alimony, child support, property or inheritance rights, legal names, etc. These matters must be taken up with the proper authorities in civil court.
Question to be determined
Is there a fee for Tribunal services?
The Diocese of Grand Island charges no fees for any type of case brought before our Tribunal.
This is considered a healing ministry of the Catholic Church.
When can a marriage case be started?
Diocesan policy requires that the Grand Island Tribunal not accept petitions for a marriage nullity case until after the divorce is granted.
Do not make any plans for remarriage during this time.
Contact a priest (preferably one in your parish). Your priest will be able to help you discover what type of case will be needed and more importantly, he can provide you with spiritual assistance as you go through the process.
If for some reason you are uncomfortable contacting your parish priest, do not hesitate contacting the Tribunal. We will be more than happy to assist you.
Who can see the information? (Confidentiality)
The Diocese of Grand Island has a policy of strict confidentiality regarding all materials submitted for marriage cases. This means that your own statements and those of witnesses and professionals are treated with only the greatest respect. No one outside of the two parties involved and necessary members of the Tribunal staff assigned to the study of a particular marriage have access to the documents, and all are bound to strict confidentiality.
Please contact the Tribunal office if you have any questions concerning this matter.